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Sunday, 5 May 2013

Facade of the fitness industry.

How many of you have been slaving away at standardized gym routines for years with the hope of achieving the body of your dreams. You may be a seasonal fitness enthusiast or a pedantic individual on a mission of religiously attending gym for months on end only to end up impatient with the slow progress and eventually skipping a few weeks. But don’t worry, the fitness industry and mass media will suck you right back in after a sizeable amount of self-loathing has set in. At every turn, you will find fitness and body image marketing insisting that you need to have the physique of a Greek god.

It’s this ‘Adonis Complex’ of the fitness industry that bothers me. Is this perfectly chiseled physique for every one? Why do some people look good  with minimal effort while others slave away for marginal results.

Let’s just rip the plaster right off.
All the results you see in the gym is predominantly based on your genetics.
More specifically, how your body responds, at a cellular level, to external stressors. As well as the efficiency of that response.

I’ve seen guys walk into a gym for the very first time, with abs of steel and a pretty decent physique. Some guys who just look at the weights and bam! They increase in size.

At age 12 Lee Priest began strength training and by 13 he had entered his first competition. At 15 years of age he made more muscle gains than most 20-somethings that have been training for 10+ years.

Lee Priest at age 12, 13 and 15
Dorian Yates, former Mr. Olympia was stated to have lifted 140kgs the very first time he attempted a bench press. I’ve seen people come to gym and battle to lift 20kgs (yes, just the bar) on their very first try.

Let’s see what the research tells us about all this…

Genetics and muscle gain
Recent studies have shown that some people gain exceptional large amounts of strength and muscle mass through resistance training and some people don’t gain any at all! In fact, some of the participants in studies lost muscle size!

Yeah, you read that right.

A significant study by Hubal tested the strength and muscle gains of 585 men and women during 12 weeks of progressive resistance training. They used 1-RM tests for strength and MRI’s of the biceps to determine muscle size (cross sectional area). The results were shocking.
The worst responders lost 2% of their muscle cross-sectional area (size) and did not make any strength gains. The best responders increased muscle cross-sectional area by 59% and increased their 1RM strength by 250%. Both the respondents were subjected to the exact same training protocol.

Another study by Patrella tested 66 human subjects through a 16 week progressive dynamic exercise program. 17 of the participants (26%) never gained any measurable muscle mass.

Why is it that some people gain size and strength incredibly fast and some don’t?

The study by Patrella measured the satellite cell numbers per 100 muscle fibers. In layman’s terms satellite cells are what help your muscle grow. From the above-stated study, the best respondents had 21 satellite cells per 100 fibers which increased to 30 per 100 fibers and an increase in fibre area of 54% after the 16 week period. The other 26% who didn’t respond to the training had 10 satellite cells per 100 fibres which did not increase after 16 weeks. Nor did their muscle size.

Why is it that studies like this never reach fitness magazines? Cos it’s bad for business. You’re more likely to see articles about getting ripped in 6 weeks and “shortcuts to six pack abs”. There is no short cut or recipe or cookie cut routine.

Bruce Fordyce in his heyday.
What does this mean for the population in general.
When we look around us we realize this isn’t far from the truth. You don’t expect Bruce Fordyce (9 times comrades marathon winner and 50 mile WR holder) to pick up a few weights and win Mr. Olympia next to Ronnie Coleman and The Terminator. In the same way, the latter will never be a WR holder at endurance events (highly unlikely at least). Their genetics differ and simply won’t allow them. Each person is genetically gifted in specific areas. They say that if you want to be a gifted athlete then you need to choose your parents well!

Genetics and fat loss
There are variety of factors at the cellular level which play a role in the way our bodies burn fat and gain muscle. Fat storage is influenced in the way our body metabolises foodstuff and expends energy. We’ve all got that skinny friend who eats a horse’s weight in food and doesn’t gain a single Kg. Some people can maintain their normal diets with bouts of bad eating and still maintain decent body shapes. Others have to severely restrict calorie intake and substitute unhealthy foods for nutritious ones just to gain ¼ of the benefits.
Your genetics also determine WHERE you store fat. For most people it’s in the abdominal region with women tending to gain weight towards their hips and thighs as well.

Yes, obesity does have genetic origins but that is by no means an excuse to not exercise and live a healthy life.

What can you do about it?

This article has highlighted some scary truths in current research but all hope is not lost.
We all have genetic faults. Some people gain weight easily, some stay skinny, some have stubborn areas of fat deposits, some can’t build muscle, some have good muscle mass and lower strength capabilities. The list goes on.

I am probably one person who has every one of those faults. I can literally lose 5-6kgs in a month if I don’t go to the gym and stick to a calorie surplus diet. On a 162cm ectomorphic frame, thats a lot too lose. On a However, by employing different training protocols I have been finding different ways in which to challenge and change my body.

My bench press 1RM strength has tripled over the last 8 years accompanied by a fair amount of muscle gain, granted not as great as I’d wish it to be and far from Men’s Health cover bodies!!

The key aspect that I found was missing from these studies was that they were not modified for individual body types.
What works for one person will not necessarily work for all people. The law of individuality! That’s why having a trainer is important. They can determine, through scientific methods and fitness testing, the best training stimuli for your body to elicit the best results.

Some people respond to high volume programs and some respond to high intensity. Some will respond best to a total body conditioning program, some to a strength program and some to a hypertrophy program. The key is finding out which of these protocols best suits your body type.

One undisputed fact is that, everyone that I have trained or trained with has looked better in some way, be it in fat loss or muscle gain, granted that they stick to the exercise program and diet plan. Of course, the variability of the results will depend on genetics but consistency and continuous adaptation and progression will always elicit results.
Sound training principles will always be credited to a large portion of training benefits on body composition.

Yes, genetics makes a difference but knowledge in training methodology with a good diet and supplementation program will help you maximize what your momma gave you.

…Most importantly, be comfortable in your own skin… beauty is fleeting… and when youth departs, make sure you’ve trained and flexed your moral fibers more than anything else, this is the only imperishable beauty.

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